It’s difficult to choose the best places to visit in the Balkans because there’s so much on offer! There’s something for every type of traveler to love, from tranquil natural wonders to flavorful cuisine. In addition to the vibrant culture and fascinating history, you’ll find more than forty UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered across the region.
The Balkans are a wonderful place for indie travel because there are many routes you can take to incorporate the places you’re most excited about. So far, I’ve visited more than half the countries in the Balkans, and the rest are on my list! I can personally vouch for the destinations you’ll find in this article. They’ve all stuck with me for different reasons, and I’m excited to share them with you!
In this Balkans travel guide, we’ll explore nine of the best places to visit in the Balkans for independent travelers. You’ll discover beautiful nature spots, fascinating historical sites, and the best foodie spots. I hope your bucket list has a few new places by the time you finish reading.
Check out this article for more information about planning your trip to the Balkans.
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3 Best Places to Visit in the Balkans for Natural Wonders
The Balkans will blow your mind with all the natural beauty! The majestic mountains tower overhead and the pristine, turquoise water is straight out of a dream. A road trip through the region offers the ultimate independent travel experience. It's my favorite way to explore all the nature on offer, though you can also reach these places by bus. While you can find organized tours to get you to these more remote areas, the information here is all about indie travel. In this section of the Balkans travel guide, you’ll discover three of the best places in the Balkans to visit for incredible natural wonders.
#1 Best Place for Nature: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park inspired my first visit to the Balkans in 2015. The pictures of turquoise waters and cascading waterfalls I’d seen over the years were enough to plan an entire trip around! The experience of walking through the network of trails was better than anything I had imagined. It tops my list of the best places to visit in the Balkans for nature because it’s stunning.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the ten UNESCO World Heritage sites within the borders of Croatia. Though you can visit the park as a day trip from Zagreb or Split, I recommend staying in one of the nearby towns so you can spend one or two full days exploring. These smaller villages also give you a completely different view of Croatia than you’ll find along the coast or in the busy capital of Zagreb.
The park has two sections of lakes for you to explore, the upper and lower lakes. The network of trails connecting the two offers opportunities to explore the lakes to your heart’s content and venture into the surrounding forest. Take the ferry boat across the big lake for a unique perspective of the park from the water.
For nature lovers, dedicating a day to each section of the park is the way to go. Though the beautiful beaches and towns along the Dalmatian Coast draw most tourists, you won’t be disappointed by a trip to the countryside! Regardless of what type of traveler you are, Plitvice Lakes is still worth at least a day of your time.
Tips for Planning Your Visit to Plitvice Lakes National ParkEntrance prices vary by season. You can purchase tickets online or at one of the two park entrances. You will have to pay for parking when you leave, which is determined by the length of your visit. Plan to arrive early to beat the crowds that congregate along the most popular trails in the afternoon.
#2 Best Place for Nature: The Danube Delta, Romania
After seeing a National Geographic photo series, the Danube Delta was where I most wanted to see while in Romania. It’s the world’s largest reed bed and a UNESCO World Heritage site. More than 300 bird species call the Danube Delta home, providing an incredible opportunity for nature lovers like myself to see the wildlife in their natural habitat.
You’ll find a lovely promenade along the waterfront and plenty of boat tour operators docked along the way. On our visit, we opted for a full-day tour through the delta. We spent the morning wildlife watching from the boat before stopping for a delicious lunch of fresh fish with a local family. Afterward, we made our way out to the small town of Sulina, where the delta meets the Black Sea.
The city of Tulcea is the best place to stay while you explore the delta. There are plenty of affordable places along the waterfront. You’ll find the Danube Delta Visitor’s Center and Aquarium just off the promenade, where you can learn more about the ecosystem.
Tips for Planning Your Visit to the Danube DeltaCheck out SAFCA Tours for your trip onto the delta. The captain was amazing at spotting wildlife and even shared some of his homemade schnapps with us. Though we took the full-day speed boat tour, they offer many options. The easiest way to book is to send them an email or find their boat along the waterfront. If you’re visiting during the summer months, pre-booking will ensure you get a spot!
#3 Best Place for Nature: Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Slovenia is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, and Triglav National Park was the highlight. The park, which includes both Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, sets out to preserve the natural wonders of the Julian Alps in the region. While most visitors come to see Lake Bled, there’s so much more to see in the area!
Spend a day exploring the little town of Bled and take a ride on one of the traditional boats to the church set out on the lake. A six-kilometer trail encircling the lake is perfect for walking or biking. You’ll find many other trails that start in this area as well. Here's an article with information about some of the best hikes in the park.
A short thirty-minute drive away, you’ll discover Lake Bohinj. There are fewer visitors and plenty of activities to do here! There’s a rock-climbing center at the edge of the lake, and the Church of Saint John the Baptist, which dates from the 13th century, is worth a visit too. You can hike to the Savica Waterfall or take a ferry across the glass-like lake for a new perspective. I swear, if fairies are real, they live here!
Tips for Planning Your Visit to Triglav National Park
The park is only an hour’s drive from Ljubljana. You can make it a day trip or spend more time in the area, but don’t skip this spot! If you choose to stay in the park, the little town of Bohinjska Bistrica is a lovely little town that’s much quieter and more affordable than Bled. There are small restaurants, cafes, parks, and shops to enjoy after a day of outdoor adventures. This off-the-beaten-path spot is perfect for independent travelers looking for a unique experience.If you want more information about planning your trip to the Balkans, check out this article for all the details.
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3 Best Places to Visit in the Balkans for Interesting History
The Balkans are full of fascinating history. From the ancient Greek ruins to remnants from the fall of communism, there are many opportunities to learn about the region’s past. Choosing the best places to visit in the Balkans for history-lovers isn’t easy, but these are my top recommendations (so far) for your itinerary. In this section of the Balkans travel guide, you’ll discover three destinations full of history and perfect for your independent travel experience.
Sarajevo is my absolute favorite city in the Balkans! I love it so much that I’ve visited it four times now and spent nearly two months in the city. It has something for every independent traveler, but we’ll focus on the history in this article.
In the Turkish-style old town, Baščaršija, you’ll find the historic Bey’s Mosque, Coppersmith Alley, the Sebilj Fountain, City Hall Museum, and the Ottoman era clock tower, just for starters. Baščaršija is the part of town where you can get some of the best traditional food in the city. There are no cars in this part of the town, making it a wonderful place to spend an afternoon wandering.
As you head west from Baščaršija, you’ll see the architecture has suddenly changed from Ottoman to Austro-Hungarian style - where East truly meets West. You’ll find both of the largest Catholic and Serbian Orthodox cathedrals in the city in this area. The Latin Bridge and Sarajevo Museum are along the Miljaka River, where Gavrilo Princip shot Franz Ferdinand, sparking WWI.
On the south side of the river, you can take the gondola to the top of the Trebević Mountain. You can hike along the abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Olympics, now taken over by the forest. There are also a few hiking trails to explore more of the forest. After your trip up the mountain, get a pint at the Sarajevska Brewery and visit the museum, highlighting its history and role during the 90s conflict.
Tips for Planning Your Visit to SarajevoThis city deserves at least a few days of your itinerary. I always want to stay at least a week when I visit. You can easily get a bus to Sarajevo from more popular destinations in the region like Split, Dubrovnik, or Belgrade. The roads into the city are two lanes and wind through the mountains, offering incredible views. Many people in the city list apartments to rent on Booking.com, the accommodations I prefer when visiting.
#2 Best Places to Visit in the Balkans for History: Transylvania, Romania
Transylvania is most well-known for Bran Castle, the legendary home of Count Dracula, but the area has a history that goes far beyond the sensational figure. The medieval towns of Brasov, Sighisoara, and Sibiu all offer well-preserved sites to explore Transylvania’s fascinating past. There are several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that include fortified churches and the historic center of Sighisoara.
You can easily spend a week in this part of Romania, dedicating at least two days to each town I mentioned. Besides the historical centers, you can take day trips to incredible castles around the countryside. Many of these fortifications were built hundreds of years ago to fend off Ottoman attacks and are still around for you to see.
A great route for a road trip to Transylvania would be to start in Brasov, spend a couple of days in Sighisoara, and end your time in Sibiu. You can drive back to Bucharest through the Transfăgărășan Pass, a steep and winding mountain pass. It’s an exhilarating experience! You’ll find places to pull over to enjoy the epic mountain views along the way.
Tips for Planning Your Visit to TransylvaniaBrasov is the most visited of the three cities mentioned, so make sure to pre-book your stay if you’re going in the summer. You’ll find plenty of affordable rooms in pensions, bed & breakfasts, or even private rooms in hostels. My husband and I used all three types of accommodations and had a wonderful experience. Having a car is the best way to explore Transylvania, though you can take a bus from one town to the next.
#3 Best Places to Visit in the Balkans for History: The Adriatic Coast, Croatia
Though the Croatian coast is most popular for its beaches and turquoise water, there’s so much more to this area. From the Old City of Dubrovnik to the Church of St. Euphemia in Rovinj, you’ll find historical sights everywhere. Split and Dubrovnik are the most popular, but smaller towns like Trogir are worth visiting too.
Two or three days exploring the Old Town of Dubrovnik is worth a spot on your itinerary. The views from the Old City Walls are incredible! You’ll also find many museums documenting its long and rich history inside the city. Stop at the tourist center and pick up a Dubrovnik City Pass. It will save you some money over purchasing each entrance separately.
Split is also a great place to spend a couple of your days. You can explore Diocletian’s Palace, the Croatian Maritime Museum, and the Archeological Museum right in the city. There are also beautiful beaches all around for relaxing. From Split, it’s an easy day trip to Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina to see the city’s historic center and Old Bridge.
Tips for Planning Your Visit to Croatia’s Adriatic Coast
Croatia is the most expensive part of the Balkans to visit because of its popularity, but you can still find rooms or apartments for less than $50 per night. Both Split and Dubrovnik have large airports, which are easily accessible. The coastline is also well connected by bus if you don’t want to rent a car.If you want more details for planning your trip through the Balkans, check out the full Balkans travel guide article.
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3 Best Places in the Balkans for Foodies
Honestly, I’ve never had a bad meal in the Balkans. It’s a food lover’s dream! There’s not a specific flavor profile for Balkan food, but a wonderful variety of dishes throughout the region. While each country has its traditional dishes, you’ll also find influences from all the empires that passed through the region over the centuries. In this section, I’ll share the best places in the Balkans to get delicious (and affordable) food.
#1 Best Places to Visit in the Balkans for Food: Albania
When I visited Albania, I had no idea what to expect from the local cuisine. Talk about a smorgasbord of tasty goodness! A few of the traditional dishes I tried, like peppers filled with rice and stuffed eggplant, were reminiscent of savory Turkish flavors I’ve had before. Since the Ottomans once ruled the area, this makes perfect sense. However, fergese, a mix of bubbling cheese and roasted peppers, was my favorite! Now I have to learn to make it at home.
Surprise, Albania has incredible pizza! In the two weeks I spent traveling in Albania, I ate more pizza than in the last three years combined! Because Italy is just across the Adriatic Sea, you’ll find the cuisine everywhere in Albania. Albania also produces wonderful wine, which you can always find to go with your meal in a restaurant. In the seaside towns, it’s luxurious to sit outside with your pizza and wine, staring out at the clear, turquoise water.
Greece and Albania share a border, which means you can find Greek cuisine throughout Albania. Greek salads made with fresh, local produce are available on most menus and traditional dishes like moussaka.
Tips for Planning Your Meals in Albania
The food in Albania is incredibly affordable. A full meal with a glass of wine is typically less than $10 per person. There are open-air produce markets in every town if you want to pick up supplies for a picnic or cook at your accommodation. You’ll also find plenty of street food, gelato, and other treats to enjoy as you stroll. If you budget $20 a day for food, you’ll eat like royalty!
#2 Best Places to Visit in the Balkans for Food: Bosnia & Herzegovina
Just thinking about traditional Bosnian food makes my mouth water! Many local dishes are Turkish in origin since the Ottomans ruled the country for centuries. You’ll find flavorful soups and stews, doner kebabs galore, and burek, a local stuffed pastry that’s popular in Turkiye as well.
You can’t visit Bosnia without trying the national dish of ćevapi. Its ingredients are simple -- minced meat sausages in a fluffy bread pocket served with raw onions and a red pepper spread in some parts of the country. Don’t let the simplicity fool you, though; it’s full of flavor! You’ll find restaurants specifically dedicated to this dish everywhere. You can choose how many sausages you get (5 is usually plenty for me). Add a salad to help lighten the meal. You can easily fill up for around $5.
One of my favorite ways to try Bosnian food is in an Aščinica, a local lunch counter. You’ll find a variety of traditional dishes available, and you can fill your plate with little bits of each. I always get a couple of the sogan dolmas (onions stuffed with meat) and the bamija (an okra stew) if they’re available that day. If you’re like me and want to try them all, you can do it for less than $10.
You won’t find alcohol served in most street food shops or lunch counters, but many more traditional restaurants have beer, wine, and local fruit schnapps.
Tips for Planning Your Meals in Bosnia & Herzegovina
When I’m visiting this country, I eat out for most meals. There are wonderful open-air markets for fresh produce. The stone fruits are delicious, so grab some for a sweet treat and a break from all the meats! Like Albania, $20 per day will give you plenty of opportunities to sample the local flavors.
#3 Best Places to Visit in the Balkans for Food: Romania
The last two countries I’ve mentioned have many Turkish influences on the food, but Romania offers a completely different experience! Though you can find some of the same flavors from the western part of the Balkans, Romanian food incorporates influences from the coast and northern neighbors. The local dishes are rich, hearty, and full of garlic -- maybe to keep those vampires away?
Along the Black Sea coast, the seafood is incredible! You’ll find a mix of both saltwater and freshwater fish on menus. They’re roasted and served whole, a filling meal for less than $10. In the heart of Transylvania, you’ll find more roasted meats, potatoes, and hearty stews that remind me of Czechian and Polish cuisines.
The Romanians love their sweets! You’ll see cheese donuts and sweet cream on all dessert menus. Have one for a mid-day treat with a glass of local wine! They’re worth saving room for, but that can be challenging with all the other goodness on offer.
Tips for Planning Your Meals in Romania
Just like the other two countries, food in Romania is incredibly affordable. Before our visit, I’d followed restaurants on Instagram and thought I’d miscalculated the exchange rate because the prices seemed unrealistically low. I didn’t miscalculate - it really is that affordable. Even big hearty meals were usually less than $10 per person with a glass of wine or a pint of local beer.To get all the details you need for planning your holidays in the Balkans, check out this Balkan travel guide.
Wrapping Up the Best Places to Visit in the Balkans
There are so many incredible places to visit in the Balkans. This article is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out the Balkans travel guide for practical information about planning your trip. You’ll find more of the best places to visit in the Balkans, plus information about getting around and planning your itinerary!
If you’ve got plans to visit other parts of Europe, this article will give you the steps you need to create your perfect trip.
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Have you been to the Balkans? What are your favorite places for nature, history, and food?
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